5 Tips for Lawyers to Find a Therapist to Help with Stress and Anxiety [TFLP171]

In this episode of The Former Lawyer Podcast, Sarah covers the importance of therapy for lawyers, finding therapists for lawyers, and the five tips to help you find the right person. 

There aren’t therapists for lawyers specifically, but there are a few tools you can utilize to help you find someone that works best for you. Sarah has been very open about how therapy has helped her and wants to share her advice to help other lawyers find therapists so they can enjoy the same benefits.

5 Tips to Find Therapists for Lawyers

Let’s dive into the top five tips for finding a lawyer therapist and how to start your journey today.

Tip #1: Your Therapists for Lawyers Don’t Need to be Former Lawyers

As lawyers, our profession comes with unique situations, and it can be beneficial to talk with others that understand some of these workplace nuances. That said, finding a therapist who once practiced law can be extremely difficult and unnecessary. Sarah personally has some great long-term relationships with therapists who understand the struggles that lawyers face and specialize in understanding the lawyer’s experience, but they were never lawyers themselves.

There are some mental health professionals that were previously lawyers, but don’t let that be an obstacle when you are searching. There are plenty of qualified professionals that have experience working with both current and former lawyers. Getting recommendations from other lawyers can be helpful as well. 

Tip #2: Find a Lawyer with Trauma Experience and Knowledge

When searching for therapists for lawyers, there might be specific qualifications you’re looking for. For example, if you are struggling with substance abuse issues, you might search for someone that specializes in that area. When looking for therapy for lawyers, we recommend looking for someone that is trauma-informed.

You face a lot of trauma as a lawyer, and meeting with someone who can help you work through that will be constructive. Dealing with life transitions while also processing past traumas can be extremely difficult. If you start with cognitive behavior therapy for lawyers, you’ll lack the tools to deal with unresolved trauma. Finding a lawyer that uses trauma-oriented treatments should be a priority. It’s a bonus to have experience working with narcissism and the dynamics of a narcissistic workplace.

The Psychology Today website is one of the best resources for locating therapists specializing in these areas. There is a comprehensive database of lawyers in your area, and you can search within your insurance network and by specific criteria. Many people see therapists outside their insurance network, so be prepared to expand your search if needed.

Tip #3: Focus on the Quality of Your Relationship with Your Lawyer

When deciding which therapist to work with, the most important thing is the quality of your relationship and connection with them. You can filter all the different specialties and qualifications, but the most important thing is whether or not you feel comfortable with them. Do you feel safe with the therapist and feel a rapport? 

There are usually some nerves, awkwardness, and discomfort in your first meeting, but use your gut and be willing to try out more than one person. If something doesn’t feel right, move on. You’ll find someone who makes you comfortable and is easy to talk to. That’s the relationship you want with your therapist so you can start the work to improve your quality of life.

Tip #4: Now is the Best Time for You to Find a Therapist

If you’re listening to this podcast and wondering if now is the right time to find a therapist, it is. Especially if you’re a lawyer who is experiencing stress, anxiety, or burnout, now is the time. Therapy for lawyers is helpful; finding the right person can take some time. Start your search now, and don’t wait for a crisis to begin the process. You’ll have a clearer mind and be able to determine who is the best fit for you and start the conversations now. Dive in and gain that support before you experience more significant depression or anxiety. 

Tip #5: Don’t Overthink What You’ll Say in Your Therapy Sessions

Many people who listen to the podcast have expressed concerns that they don’t know what they would talk to a therapist about if they went. You don’t need to have one large specific issue to discuss with a therapist to start attending sessions. Therapists can help you determine what you need to focus on and will work to get to know you during your sessions and get to the root of your stress and anxiety.

Lawyers can often feel like there needs to be a specific crisis or problem to fix before meeting with a therapist. It’s natural to think like a lawyer in this situation, but you don’t need to have the answers before you begin. Therapy will help you identify the things in your environment and your relationships that are impacting your mental health and quality of life. If you are determining whether or not you want to remain a lawyer, your therapist can help you work through that decision-making process.

Final Thoughts about Therapy for Lawyers

If you’re looking for therapists for lawyers, consider these five tips to help you find the best fit for your situation and start the process of finding someone to work with today. If you have any follow-up questions, email [email protected], and we might address them in a future episode. 
If you are exploring the possibility of leaving the law, sign up and receive Sarah’s free guide, First Steps to Leaving the Law.

Hi, and welcome to The Former Lawyer Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Cottrell. I practiced law for 10 years and now I help unhappy lawyers ditch their soul-sucking jobs. On this show, I share advice and strategies for aspiring former lawyers, and interviews with former lawyers who have left the law behind to find careers and lives that they love.

We all know that one of the things that I talk about a lot on this podcast is that I think every lawyer should go to therapy. That has always been true, to be honest, it's become even more true as I've done this work with former lawyers because I've seen how transformational working with a therapist alongside the work that my clients do in the Collab and working one-on-one can be. Of course, because I talk about therapy, and how I've benefited from therapy and how I think all lawyers should be in therapy so much, I'm often asked by lawyers for advice in terms of finding a therapist, which I completely understand because it can feel frankly kind of overwhelming.

Today I wanted to give you just some tips, suggestions, and pieces of guidance, just from my own experience that I think will be helpful for you if you are a lawyer who is thinking about finding a therapist, because there's definitely a lot to think about and also sometimes we can overthink it. Okay, let's get into it.

I am super excited to let you know that a new round of the Guided Track is going to be kicking off in February. So if you've been thinking about working with me to figure out what it is that you want to do that isn't practicing law, now is a great time. First of all, what is the Guided Track? The Guided Track basically takes the Collab and everything that you have in the Collab, the community on Circle, the curriculum The Former Lawyer Framework, all of the replays of the various events, panels, workshops that we have had in the Collab, etc., so it takes all of that. In addition to that, what you are doing is you are going to be working with a small group of lawyers.

This round is capped at six lawyers. What we're going to be doing is we will meet weekly for 10 weeks. We’ll first have an orientation call, then we'll meet weekly for 10 weeks, and you will be following an action plan that I've created to help you move through the Former Lawyer Framework in those 10 weeks. We'll have weekly calls where we will meet and talk through what you've worked on that week, what questions have come up. As a member of the Guided Track, you also get a 30-minute one-on-one call with me to use it whenever you want during the Guided Track.

You also get some free personality assessments that I recommend in the framework. You also get a free CliftonStrengths 34 Report and a half-day virtual workshop with a certified CliftonStrengths coach. This workshop is a favorite of past participants of the Guided Tracks. It is incredibly helpful in terms of understanding what you bring to the table, in terms of both soft skills and talents. It also provides you with a lot of language and ways to talk about who you are, the way that you work, and why a non-legal employer should think about hiring you for their role.

If you're someone who wants that weekly accountability, that small group support, the ability to get on live calls with me and a small group of other lawyers to talk through all of these things as you're working through them, what you are looking for is the Guided Track. Go to formerlawyer.com/guidedtrack and you can sign up there. Enrollment closes on Friday, February 17th, and we get started on Monday, February 20th. The calls will be at 8:00 PM Eastern on Mondays starting February 20th and will run through Monday, May 8th. If you want one of these six spots, go to formerlawyer.com/guidedtrack.

Here is the first tip that I have for you: the person who you choose as your therapist does not have to be a former lawyer. Now of course we talk on the podcast a lot about the ways that our profession can be particularly weird and the value of being able to talk to other lawyers who understand where we're coming from when we decide we don't want to practice law anymore, that certainly can be true when you're seeing a therapist.

There is definitely a benefit to being able to talk about your workplace and just know that the therapist understands kind of what it is like without having to go into the nitty-gritty details. That said, I find that a lot of lawyers get so focused on wanting to find someone who specifically also was a lawyer that it can actually hold them back from finding a therapist because they think this piece of it is so necessary.

I've talked on the podcast before I've been in therapy on and off for 10 years. I've had several very long-standing relationships with therapists and none of my therapists have been former lawyers. I have been very fortunate in that the therapists who I have worked with definitely understood some of the underlying psychology of us lawyer types, but you don't need to find a therapist who is a former lawyer in order to get the benefit of therapy.

Now that said, if you want to look for therapists with that background, I think that that's great. But again, the place that I see it becoming an obstacle for lawyers is when they feel like they have to find someone with that experience. Of course, there are people who specialize in this.

We've had some therapists on the podcast. I know of at least one practice where they train even their non-former-lawyer therapists to specifically understand the lawyer experience, the lawyer mindset. I think those things can be really helpful. But ultimately, the thing that you really need is a therapist that you have a good working relationship with.

That brings me into my second and third points. First, let's talk about if you're not looking for a therapist who’s specifically a former lawyer, what criteria should you be looking for and looking for a therapist? Now, as per usual, there is the lawyerly answer of it depends. There might be a lot of different reasons why you might be looking to work with a therapist.

For example, many lawyers struggle with substance abuse, and so you may be looking for a therapist that specifically specializes in that. You may be someone who experiences anxiety or who experiences depression. Again, all of these things are criteria that you can use to look for someone who specializes in that type of work or working with that type of challenge.

This is just my personal opinion, but the things that I think are most important for you to look for when you're looking for a therapist is a therapist who is trauma-informed, ideally, potentially a trauma therapist. Now many of you might be saying, “Well, Sarah, I don't think that I have trauma so why would I be looking for a trauma therapist?” It's been my experience that for many lawyers, either through their workplace or otherwise, there has been some experience of trauma for them in their life.

I would rather recommend to someone that they go find a therapist that specializes in that type of treatment, and have that therapist ultimately be able to tell you out of their own expertise, like, “Hey, you don't necessarily need this type of therapy. But here are some other recommendations.” Because trauma is such an important piece of the healing that you can find in therapy.

I think that if you, for example, try to approach the challenges that you're finding in terms of your job, figuring out what you want to do next, all of those things without the trauma lens, if there is trauma there, it can be really problematic. If you're interested in a little bit more about that, I did an episode a while back about cognitive behavioral therapy and the ways in which that I think can be misused with lawyers.

Now, in particular, I think the problems with cognitive behavioral therapy come in, especially when you have people who are not licensed therapists trying to use CBT principles to solve or tell you that you can solve any problem that you have just by thinking differently. It's much more complex, and as someone who, among all the various modalities that I have experienced in therapy, have worked with a therapist who specifically specializes in cognitive behavioral therapy, I'm not saying that there is no value to CBT.

I am saying that if you go to someone for something, or to be treated with CBT as a method, when in fact, you need to be doing something else, for example, something like EMDR, which is a more specifically trauma-oriented treatment, you won't necessarily find that there is the efficacy that you might be wanting.

Now in terms of finding someone who specializes in the various things that I've talked about, a great resource is the Psychology Today website. They have a very comprehensive database of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists that you can search with specific criteria in your area. Sometimes you can even select which insurance you have. That can be really helpful.

I will speak from my own experience in that in my 10 years of being in therapy and working with various therapists and psychiatrists, only one person has ever been covered in network in my insurance. For everyone else, they have been out of network and that's a relatively common experience for most of the people who I know who see a therapist regularly.

There's a whole separate conversation to be had about that and the problems with that, problems with mental health care and accessibility, which I will just set to the side for now. But that is something to be aware of as you are looking for a therapist, the Psychology Today website, that database can be extremely helpful.

One: your therapist does not have to be a former lawyer. Two: I highly suggest that your therapist have some experience, specialize in trauma, or have some training in trauma or some trauma-based or trauma-oriented therapies like EMDR. Another thing that can be very helpful is if your therapist has some specific knowledge about narcissism and the dynamics of narcissism because so many people who are in the law work in workplaces that have a narcissistic dynamic, which can be actually quite tricky to understand and evaluate if someone doesn't have some experience with narcissism.

That's another thing that you can look for when you're looking for a therapist in terms of someone who might be particularly well suited to help you as you are working on your own mental health. That said, all of that said, the third tip that I have for you is it's very well recognized that in many, if not all cases, the quality of your relationship with your therapist matters more than the specific modality the therapist uses, modality or modalities.

While I think it is important to look for a therapist who has particular types of training that can be particularly helpful for lawyers, I think it's also very important to keep in mind that when you are looking for a therapist, when you're meeting with someone, ultimately what you want to be evaluating is do you feel comfortable with that therapist? Do you feel safe with that therapist? Do you feel like there is a rapport there? Because those things can be just as significant and important for the therapeutic relationship and for your progress and therapy as any other thing.

Which is to say that when you find a therapist or when you meet with a therapist for the first time, there will probably be nerves, there's always a period of awkwardness when you're getting to know someone and obviously, you're not getting to know a therapist the way that you might get to know someone who you're just becoming friends with. However, if you find yourself in a situation where you're like, “Something about this is not working,” be willing to go and see other people.

It is better for you to spend some time finding the right therapist with whom you have a good working rapport in order to be able to experience the benefits that therapy can offer.

To recap once more, one: the person doesn't have to be a former lawyer but two: I highly recommend that they have some experience or knowledge and training around trauma and/or narcissism. But also three: you don't have to have a therapist with any of those particular qualities so long as the therapeutic relationship, your relationship with them is a positive one because the quality of the relationship that you have is going to be very predictive of the outcomes of that relationship.

The fourth tip that I have for you when it comes to thinking about finding a therapist who can help you especially if you're a lawyer who's experiencing stress, anxiety, or burnout is don't wait for a crisis to happen. If you're listening to this and you already feel like you're there, I'm not saying that if you're in a crisis, don't find a therapist, also find a therapist.

But what I am saying is that if you're someone who's thought, “I wonder if I should find a therapist,” or “I've been listening to the podcast for a while and Sarah really talks a lot about how lawyers should see a therapist,” now is a good time for you to find a therapist.

Why is that? Well, it's very helpful. As I've mentioned, you could meet one therapist and realize that's not a great fit for you and ultimately decide to see someone else. Even when you do find someone, there's a period of time where you're getting to know them, letting them know about your background, your overall experiences, all of these things and it can be really helpful, especially if you're someone who finds yourself in a really anxious period and then less anxious periods to start doing that work to bring the therapist up to speed on you before you're in a place where you're in crisis.

Again, I'm not saying if you're listening to this and you are in crisis, don't find a therapist. 100% find a therapist, yes, regardless. However, what I am trying to convey is that if you're someone who is not in crisis but has thought about potentially going to therapy, now is the best time to actually do the work to find a therapist so that if and when you find yourself in a situation that is more extreme or more anxious where you are experiencing more significant depression, having the therapist in place, having that support in place, having the background work done will be really helpful for you once/when you are in those moments.

Here's the last tip. This is tip number five. Tip number five is don't worry about what you're going to say. I don't know if this is something that you've experienced, but I've had this happen a lot with clients who have not been in therapy, heard me talk on the podcast a lot about the value of therapy, and have said various things to me along the lines of “I know you talk a lot about therapy and how it can be helpful and I think it's something I might be interested in. But I don't really know what I would say or I don't really know that I have a problem that's big enough to talk to a therapist about.”

Sometimes there's a sense of “I have to have a specific goal before I can go into a therapeutic relationship.” The thing that I tell people is that yes, you may have specific things that you're like, “I know I want to talk about this or that or I know that there's something in my past history that might be influencing the way that I'm responding or the way my nervous system is responding and may present,” there may be those things.

You also might just be someone who knows or has the sense that therapy would be a good thing for you but you don't have something specific like that, and that's okay. You don't need to worry about what you're going to say. You literally can go into therapy, go to meet with a therapist, and say, “There are things about my life that I don't love, like my job and I want to figure out how to navigate them. I feel like this could be helpful for me, but I'm not exactly sure where to start,” as an example.

In other words, you literally can go to a therapist and one of the things that therapist can do is help you to figure out what it is that you may need to focus on. A lot of lawyers feel like they don't have a specific crisis point or a specific “problem” that they're trying to solve in a very particular way that going to therapy is not going to be helpful or that they shouldn't go until they have some specific thing that they know that they want the therapist to “fix.”

That's a very lawyerly way to think because we want to be prepared in every situation for every eventuality. We want to always have the answers and in a certain sense, there's this sense of “the answer” when you're someone who's going to therapy is what it is that you're going to therapy for, but the reality is that part of the point of therapy, of the therapeutic relationship is to help you identify some of the things that you may not be able to see in yourself, to help you identify those things in your environment, in your relationships, in your own self that are having impacts on your mental health, on your quality of life.

Of course, for those of you listening, this is particularly true in terms of things that are having an impact on your job, on your career, on the ways that you view your job and your career. For example, here's another potential inroad, let's say, if you're someone who's like, “I don't want to be a lawyer, but I don't know what I want to do and here are some fears that are keeping me stuck and keeping me from moving forward and taking action towards trying to figure out what I want to do next,” that's another thing that you can use as an entry point in therapy.

Like, “This is something that I think that I want to do, but I'm struggling with doing it. These are the fears that I have,” and working through that with a therapist. Then there are lots of other ways. The point being that it does not have to be this huge “problem.” You don't have to have this idea that, “Oh, I need a 10-point plan for resolving this one specific issue.”

So much of what therapy is and what working with a therapist is about is understanding how you work and seeing the things in yourself that you might not be able to see on your own without the help of a therapist. Those are my five tips for you if you're a lawyer who is looking for a therapist and wants to know what to be looking for when you are trying to find a therapist.

Like I said, this is something that I get asked about a lot because of course, as I say so often on the podcast, are you in therapy? Because if you're not, you should get a therapist. I really appreciate you listening to this episode. I hope it was helpful.

If there are any follow-up questions that you have that might be helpful to address in future episodes, specifically about being a lawyer in therapy, looking for a therapist, or anything else around these sorts of mental health topics, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at [email protected], and your question may be addressed in a future episode. Thanks so much for listening and I hope you have a great week.

Thanks so much for listening. I absolutely love getting to share this podcast with you. If you haven't yet, I invite you to download my free guide: First Steps to Leaving the Law at formerlawyer.com/first. Until next time, have a great week.